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The Mactaggart Art Collection Lecture Series

Visualizing China’s Imperial Order (1500-1800)

Session 3: “Expanding China’s Imperial Order”

March 17 – 19, 2016

Headshot Mactaggart Session 3

Thursday, March 17, 2016

7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

TELUS International Centre (Room 134)

Guest Speakers: Prof. Joanna Waley-Cohen (New York University, New York, U.S.A.)

Registration Closed

Empire, Warfare, and Visual Culture in Eighteenth-Century China

Abstract

A complicated history lies behind the series of war paintings in the Mactaggart Art Collection. Painted in China by European artist-missionaries, they were sent to France to be engraved and, at the same time, to serve as a visual notice of Qing military and imperial power. That notice was not fully understood until much later.

We now know that the war paintings not only emblematize China’s status as a great world power, but also the unprecedented eighteenth-century militarization of culture. They also represent a significant area of artistic cross-fertilization between China and Europe. Their story helps lay to rest any suggestion that the Qing empire at its height was uninterested either in warfare or in what the West had to offer, misapprehensions that formed the basis for interactions between China and Europe throughout the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth. Only now has it become possible to understand that many aspects of the current phase of Chinese global power had important antecedents more than two hundred years ago.

Biography

Joanna Waley-Cohen is Provost at NYU Shanghai and Julius Silver Professor of History at New York University, where she has taught the history of China since 1992. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Cambridge University, where she was a member of Girton College, and her doctorate from Yale University, where she worked with Yu Ying-shih and Jonathan Spence. Waley-Cohen’s books include Exile in Mid-Qing China: Banishment to Xinjiang, 1758-1820 (1991); The Sextants of Beijing: Global Currents in Chinese History (1999) and The Culture of War in China: Empire and Military under the Qing Dynasty (2006), as well as many articles on Chinese legal, political, cultural, and culinary history. Her current scholarly projects include a history of early modern Chinese culinary culture and consumption, a history of daily life in China c. 1800, and a study of China and international law in the transition to modernity.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

Location: University of Alberta Museums Galleries at Enterprise Square (10230 Jasper Avenue) 

Guest Speakers: Prof. Eugene Wang (Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, U.S.A.)

Registration Closed

The Cloudscape: Why and How It Mattered in Traditional China?

Abstract

The idea of history painting is alien to traditional Chinese art. The unworldly art of ink painting favours detachment and transcendence as its principal tenet. Its highly formalized idiom and primacy of landscape stand in sharp contrast to the normative heroic and figural grandstanding associated with Western canonical history painting. Did the transcendent art remain the same following momentous historical upheavals, such as the dynastic change of 1644? How did such changes impact the highly formalized art form?

Granted, strong emotional responses are easily discernible in the works of so-called “Individualists.” What about those of the “Orthodox School” represented by the Four Wangs (i.e., Wang Shimin, etc.)? Denigrated in modern times for their allegedly uninspired mimicking of ancient masters, the Orthodox School works are the unlikely test grounds for signs of “history painting.” Are there any signs at all of anxiety and sentiment in response to the profound historical change? We are predisposed to regard the Orthodox masters as docile handmaids of the official ideology of the Qing rulers in favour of the even-keeled aesthetics of gentility and decorum. Is their art always that placid and uneventful?

To address these questions, Professor Eugene Wang’s lecture will take a painting in the Mactaggart Art Collection as its point of departure. The work, an album leaf painted by Wang Shimin (1592-1680) in 1666, is an instance of the ink-wash landscape known as “cloudy mountain.” Since its inception in the twelfth century, cloudscapes of this kind had been received with ambivalence. While the liberal use of ink wash channels an expressive and forthcoming disposition, it may also challenge the sensibility that favours austerity, restraint, and reticence. All these came to a head in the decades following the dynastic change of 1644. Drastic changes called for strong expression. However, the gravity of the situation also induced reticence. In any case, something in the 1660s appear to have really roiled painters such Wang Shimin, generally known for his genteel aesthetical formalism impervious to personal assertion. Can he keep his cool? Can the seemingly formulaic cloudscape fulfill the role of the Chinese version of “history painting,” the absence of a single human figure notwithstanding?

Biography

Eugene Y. Wang is the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard. His extensive publications range from early Chinese art and archeology to modern and contemporary art and cinema. He has received Guggenheim, Getty, and ACLS Fellowships. His book Shaping the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist Visual Culture in Medieval China garnered the Academic Achievement Award (2006) from Japan. He is the art history editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004). His research encompasses issues of visual intelligence and inter-subjectivity. His current projects include the research and development of digital virtual caves that provide structured immersive guidance to Buddhist meditation.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

1:45 pm – 2:45 pm

Location: University of Alberta Museums Galleries at Enterprise Square (10230 Jasper Avenue)

Guest Speakers: Prof. Grace S. Fong (McGill University, Montreal, Canada) 

Registration Closed

Visualizing Late Ming Culture Through the Arts of the Nanjing Courtesan Ma Shouzhen (1548-1604)

Abstract

Nanjing, the Southern Capital, was one of the most important cultural centres of the Ming Empire. Situated in the affluent Lower Yangzi River Delta region, Nanjing was the southern site of the highest level of the triennial civil service examinations. Aspiring scholars young and old, fully conversant not only with the Confucian classics of the examination curriculum, but also with the literati arts of poetry, calligraphy, and painting, congregated there to compete in gaining successful entry to the career path of officialdom. Complementing this scholar-literati ethos was a flourishing courtesan culture, one which came to stand as a hallmark of Late Ming elegance and sophistication. Highly accomplished in the literati arts as well as musical performance, the talented courtesans of the thriving pleasure quarters along the Qinhuai canal district created a lively social and cultural environment. They entertained and intermingled with patrons who were examination aspirants, wealthy merchants, art connoisseurs, and other clients of means.

This presentation explores the social life of the celebrated courtesan Ma Shouzhen (1548-1604) as an illustrative figure of this culture. We will see how the essential skills of her trade – poetry, painting, calligraphy, and music – also came to define feminine attainments for contemporary upper-class women. Among her accomplishments, Ma was especially known for her talent in painting orchids, a flower with a long and rich history of symbolic meanings in Chinese literature. She may have been the first to re-signify this flower as an emblem of the courtesan and her orchid paintings were so much in demand that many were forged in later periods, such as the “Orchids and Bamboo” handscroll attributed to her in the Mactaggart Collection. Ma Shouzhen provides a fascinating prism through which to view the Late Ming courtesan culture of Nanjing, one which would be remembered with longing and nostalgia in subsequent ages after its destruction in the Manchu conquest in the mid-seventeenth century.

Biography

Grace S. Fong (方秀潔) is Professor of Chinese Literature in the Department of East Asian Studies, McGill University. Her research interests encompass classical Chinese poetry and poetics, gender and the theory and practice of life writing, and women writers in late imperial China. She was a Guggenheim Fellow (2011-2012). Her research has been funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Le Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture, Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, American Council of Learned Society, and National Endowment for the Humanities.  She is Director of the Ming Qing Women’s Writings digital archive and database project (http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/mingqing/) and editor of the Women and Gender in China Studies series published by Brill. Her recent publications include Herself an Author: Gender, Agency, and Writing in Late Imperial China (University of Hawaii Press, 2008); The Inner Quarters and Beyond: Women Writers from Ming through Qing (Brill, 2010), co-edited with Ellen Widmer (Brill, 2010); “The Life and Afterlife of Ling Zhiyuan (1821-1852) and her Poetry Collection,” Journal of Chinese Literature and Culture 1.1-2 (2014); and “Between the Literata and the New Woman: Lü Bicheng as Cultural Entrepreneur,” in The Business of Culture: Cultural Entrepreneurs in China and Southeast Asia, 1900-1965, ed. Christopher Rea and Nicolai Volland (UBC Press, 2015).


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